On Monday evening, Culver City Mayor Daniel Lee and Councilmember Alex Fisch departed their terms on the city council after a single four-year term each. Dr. Lee had run for Congress, and Mr. Fisch ran a close third in the recent November 8 election which only allowed for two members to be elected to the city council. Several members of the public were on hand to thank them both for their service.

Former Councilmember and Mayor Thomas Small was effusive in his praise of Mr. Fisch, citing Raymond Chandler in saying, “’Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean; who is neither tarnished nor afraid. He is the hero. He is everything.’ This is Alex Fisch. ‘He must be a complete man, and a common man, and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor.’” He continued adding, “This really pins down how Alex has performed as a public servant, as a mayor, as a councilmember here in Culver City. And I’m so proud to have served with you, Alex.”

Former L.A. City Controller Rick Tuttle was also on hand, reciting Teddy Roosevelt’s “The Man in the Arena” to compliment both Fisch and Mayor Lee.

Resident Nancy Barba said that with Lee and Fisch on the council, “Culver City saw many leaps forward,” and specifically cited their leadership on livable wages, rent control, housing, and transit. Mary Daval thanked both men for their “efforts to acknowledge and apologize for Culver City’s racist past,” as well as to close the Culver City portion of the Inglewood Oil Fields and strengthen renter’s rights and protections. Donna Kent lamented the less progressive members of the community, saying they need to “grow up,” and complimented Lee, Fisch, and Councilmember Yasmine-Imani McMorrin for their contributions to Culver City.

“This was a sad, sickening election cycle,” said former Mayor Meghan Sahli Wells during her complimentary comments of Lee and Fisch. “The hateful mailers, the hypocrisy, the mendacity, and the infusion of nearly half a million dollars from a single corporate developer is a nightmare for our local democratic process and it’s a disastrous precedent for elections moving forward. It has cast a shadow on this city, and we need to mend.” Sahli Wells was referring to money that had been poured into the council race against Mr. Fisch and newly elected Councilmember Freddy Puza, and on behalf of newly elected Councilmember Dan O’Brien and Denice Renteria, who finished fourth.

Freshly retired L.A. Councilmember Mike Bonin was also on hand to heap praise on Lee and Fisch, saying, “There are so many times when this small little city of Culver City has inspired the City of Los Angeles or the county or bigger jurisdictions to do the right thing.”

Councilmember McMorrin talked about being inspired by Lee and Fisch prior to her own election to the city council in 2020. “You all have never shied away from the hard conversations, different approaches, definitely never shied away from that work,” she said. She also thanked Fisch for his mentorship and assured Lee that his being the first Black mayor was really important.

“Both of you guys will be missed. You brought a lot of character to the council. I really appreciate you both… I know your guidance will still be there,” added Councilmember Albert Vera.

For their part, Lee and Fisch were both thoughtful in their closing remarks to residents. Fisch was very complimentary of city staff, saying he has seen city staff grow far more professional in his 17 years in Culver City. He said that among his accomplishments, the one he’s proudest of is mending the city’s financial health. “Between measures C, CC, Measure RE, and Measure BL, we’ve expanded Culver City’s capacity by at least 20 percent,” he said to applause. He cautioned future councils on police funding, saying the cost for one median-level paid police officer is almost as much as the city allocates in entirety for after-school programs. He also spoke about his political risk-taking, adding, “To accomplish all that we did, I grabbed just about every third rail there is in local politics. And still, more than six thousand, six hundred of you said ‘We want more of that!’” in reference to his vote total in the November 8 election, where he finished a close third, just outside of re-election. He credits voters with “awakening to California cities’ culpability in the state’s problems.”

Lee encouraged more young people to run for office, and admonished the city somewhat for its lack of female representation, citing only 5-7 women have ever served on the council in Culver City’s history.  “I think that’s shameful.” He also commented on the negativity he’s faced, which he said didn’t necessarily come from how he votes. He noted that as the first black councilmember, it seemed to get worse when he was elected Vice Mayor, and worse still when he became Mayor. He said of race, “It is a countrywide issue, but it is something that will not change if we refuse to talk about it.” He also complimented the city’s active young people, particularly those who organized Vote 16 (the effort to allow 16-year-olds to vote in city council and school board contests, which fell all too unhumorously 16 votes short of passage), saying they inspire him. Lee said that as an introvert, he is not generally drawn to politics, but said he entered public life because, throughout Culver City’s history, too many have been excluded, overlooked, or even erased. He said, “I am in politics because I feel a moral obligation to be there to say, ‘What about these people? What about these people? Who is not in the room?’”

The two leaders then left the dais and both Dan O’Brien and Freddy Puza were sworn in and shown their seats. The newly formed council then elected Vera as Mayor and McMorrin as Vice Mayor.

In his opening remarks, Councilmember Puza said, “As pledged during the campaign, I will continue to center diversity, equity, and inclusion in all of my policy decisions, from housing and affordability, to public safety, to racial justice, there is still so much work to do.” He also addressed his own first. “Representation does matter, and I’m very proud to be the first openly LGBTQ councilmember in Culver City.” He added, “I’m dedicated to continuing to fight for justice in order to support everyone’s lives and dreams just as they are.”

O’Brien was generous towards Lee and Fisch in his opening, saying, “I really got to hand it to them, they really pushed the envelope.” He complimented their commitment and said he hoped he could reach that high bar himself. He also said he welcomed community pushback, saying “We’re here to take the hits” and acknowledged that good things can come out of disagreements. He even encouraged those that opposed his election to reach out to him.

New Council Rescinds Health worker Minimum Wage

Earlier in the meeting, before the farewells and swearing in, the council once again heard the issue of a $25 minimum wage for healthcare workers at Southern California Hospital, and once again it passed as it had the previous week. But with nothing formal on the agenda following welcome speeches, Councilmember Goran Eriksson moved to reconsider the passage of the new minimum wage. O’Brien seconded. It passed, which prompted Eriksson to move to eliminate the passage of the new wage altogether. O’Brien again seconded. During discussion, O’Brien said, “If I was here as a councilmember a few hours earlier, this is something I would not have supported.” He added, “I know how hard it is to get by. I’ve been in their position. But I don’t think the city council should be setting wages for a specific industry.”

“We’re not going to be able to take every job in every sector at this moment, but this is an opportunity to help workers now that need it,” countered Councilmember Puza.

Councilmember McMorrin didn’t think we should be taking away a boost for healthcare workers who are even now dealing with increasing COVID rates. She also stated, “The fact that we’re doing this at the tail end of the meeting and the folks who are directly impacted are not on the call anymore, it’s disheartening that we’re beginning this way.” She also suggested people in need are too often told to wait in this country, and pointed to the higher wage as “An opportunity at this moment to help workers, neighbors in our community, and we should do the right thing, which is support our neighbors. Because when our neighbors are well, our community is well.”

Mayor Vera didn’t feel the SEIU union members that pushed the measure didn’t do it right, citing that they didn’t gather enough signatures to even get the issue on the November 8 ballot.

The motion to rescind the new $25 minimum wage was then passed 3-2, with Eriksson, O’Brien, and Vera supporting taking the wage away from workers.

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